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The Ancestor's Tale A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet a comprehensive look at evolution ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet As the pilgrimage progresses we join with other organisms at the forty rendezvous points where we find a common ancestor The band of pilgrims swells into a vast crowd as we join first with other primates then with other mammals and so on back to the first primordial organismDawkins's brilliant inventive approach allows us to view the connections between ourselves and all other life in a bracingly novel way It also lets him shed bright new light on the most compelling aspects of evolutionary history and theory sexual selection speciation convergent evolution extinction genetics plate tectonics geographical dispersal and The Ancestor's Tale is at once a far reaching survey of the latest best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of life on Earth Here Dawkins shows us how remarkable we are how astonishing our history and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world


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    On Monday an old friend came round to lunch and while we were having a cup of tea in the living room remarked on the number of Richard Dawkins books on my shelf Somehow I'd never heard that she'd actually had Dawkins as a supervisor for one term when she was an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 70s it was in connection with the course she was reading on animal behaviour I asked what he was like as a person and she was unenthusiastic Clearly very intelligent but there was something about him that she found disquieting She wouldn't go so far as to say that he'd behaved inappropriately there was never a specific incident she could point to but she constantly felt that he was just an inch from the line Well charismatic thirty something male supervisor attractive young female undergraduate animal behaviour you can see plenty of scope for that And she said that even then he'd go on about religion After a while she became increasingly sure that his hostile feelings were rooted in some kind of personal disappointment he'd suffered though she had no idea what it might have beenI asked her which Dawkins she'd read and like most people it was The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion She hadn't particularly liked either one I can sympathize with her point of view But as other reviewers here have said Dawkins is a complex person than he's generally given credit for and if you read The Ancestor's Tale you'll see another side I suppose one could say that he's attacking religion here too but the strategy is completely the opposite of the blunt in your face assault he uses in the The God Delusion to my mind it's also far effective Rather than tell you what's ugly and wrong about Intelligent Design he concentrates his energies on showing you what's beautiful and right about evolution and how far from contradicting traditional religious beliefs it reveals them with a clarity that previous generations have been unable to see I kept thinking of Saint Francis of Assisi and his love of all living creatures Brother bird sister ant they're beautiful poetic phrases But what do they mean? Evidently this finch can't literally be my brother There is no way that my mother could have given birth to him The conventional explanation is that we're both children of God which is fine as far as it goes the problem is that it doesn't really shed much light on the nature of our relationship The astonishing thing about evolution which forms the core of this book is that it shows how the bird and ant truly are my brother and sister Well not quite brother and sister in fact they're very distant cousins Dawkins traces the family tree and shows precisely how we're all related He starts with the obvious cases apes monkeys then goes back to other mammals and then further through reptiles birds amphibians insects sponges plants and all the way to protozoa On the way he tells you some extraordinary stories Well that shouldn't be a surprise think what interesting stories you hear when you meet up with a friend you used to know well but haven't seen for a decade Here you are in some cases meeting up with people you haven't seen for several hundred million yearsAt the end I felt as I had never felt before how we're all one family in the plain everyday sense of the word and how we're linked though the genes we share which we've inherited from our common ancestors It's a truly incredible thought As Dawkins says on the last page it's not so much that he disagrees with religious people it's that they're saying it the wrong way If you are yourself a religious person who wants to learn to be closer to God and His Creation you could do worse than read this book